It’s not exactly pleasant, but it’s normal to have diarrhea before and during your period. The same hormonal changes that cause your uterus to contract and shed its lining can also affect your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
While it usually isn’t anything to worry about, there are steps you can take to either prevent or reduce diarrhea related to your period.
Experts don’t know exactly why some people have diarrhea during their periods and others don’t. Most believe it’s closely related to an increase in hormones called prostaglandins, which are released before your period.
Prostaglandins cause contractions that help your uterus shed its lining. Sometimes, they also cause contractions in your intestines, which can cause a range of GI symptoms, including diarrhea.
They also reduce the intestine’s rate of food absorption, which makes food pass through your colon faster. Prostaglandins can also increase electrolyte secretions, which can lead to diarrhea.
It’s a pretty common issue, too. A 2014 study involving 156 women found that abdominal pain and diarrhea were the most common period-related GI symptoms.
Of the women surveyed, 24 percent reported diarrhea before starting their periods, and 28 percent experienced diarrhea symptoms during their periods. Those with feelings of depression or anxiety reported even higher rates of GI symptoms.
You can treat period-related diarrhea the same way you would any other bout of diarrhea.
First, make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids to counteract the fluid loss from diarrhea. As a general rule, you’ve been drinking enough fluids when your urine is pale yellow.
In addition, it’s a good idea to avoid foods known to make diarrhea worse, including:
- artificial sweeteners
- dairy products
- spicy foods
- very sugary foods
In rare instances, you may find you need to take over-the-counter (OTC) anti-diarrheal medications, such as loperamide (Imodium). You can also take also try taking an OTC pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil), to help with cramping.
Taking birth control pills may help regulate your cycle and reduce diarrhea. Some even skip their placebo week of pills so they don’t have a period. This usually results in fewer episodes of diarrhea.
Talk to your healthcare provider to find the right option for you.
In addition to the tips above, it’s important to take steps to reduce stress. Excessive stress and anxiety can make menstrual symptoms, including cramping and diarrhea, worse.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Meditate. Set aside 10 minutes per day for meditation. This can help you focus your mind day or night. If you’re not sure where to start, try using a meditation app.
- Unplug. Decide a time at night when you unplug and stop answering your emails or watching television. This can help you quiet your mind and reduce stress.
- Get moving. Exercise helps to relieve stress, even if it’s just a 15-minute walk outside.
If you find that you’re having a hard time staying on top of your stress, consider reaching out to a therapist or other mental health professional. They can help you work through the sources of your stress and develop new coping tools.
If you frequently have diarrhea related to your period, there are some steps you can take to reduce your chance.
A few days before your period, start eating more fiber. Fiber adds bulk to your stool, making it more solid. Examples include whole-grain breads and fruits and vegetables with skins on them, since that’s where much of the fiber is.
In addition, consider adding some probiotic foods into your diet, such as miso, sauerkraut, or yogurt. These may boost the amount of healthy bacteria in the gut, which may help reduce diarrhea symptoms.
Finally, consider taking ibuprofen a day or two before your period. This can help to reduce the effects of prostaglandins on your body.
People can experience a range of other digestive issues before and during their period, too.
- gas and bloating
- more frequent bowel movements
Your symptoms could change from month to month. For a few cycles, you might have diarrhea, only to find yourself feeling constipated during the next few.
These changes are likely all related to the same culprit: prostaglandins. But changes in your diet due to cravings could also play a role.
Occasional diarrhea just before or during your period is completely normal. If it’s starting to get in the way of your everyday activities, there could be something else going on.
Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if you have:
- diarrhea or other GI symptoms that last beyond two days
- pain or cramping in the stomach or pelvis that’s hard to control with OTC medicines
- stools with visible mucus
These could be symptoms of an underlying GI condition that gets worse during your period. Your healthcare provider can help you nail down the cause and provide you with treatment options.